Poolesville languishes as White’s Ferry reopening appears bleak, commissioner president says

While the negotiations to reopen White’s Ferry have broken down over raw feelings, it’s nearby Poolesville, Maryland, that’s suffering for it, according to the town commissioners president.

Poolesville is the first stop after departing the ferry on the Maryland side of the Potomac, which means commuter traffic is a boon for businesses in the up-county town of over 5,000.

Losing the ferry in December 2020 meant “cutting off our arm at Virginia,” according to Jim Brown, the president of the Poolesville Town Commissioners.

“When the ferry’s operational, we think we’re in the middle of everything. And everything includes Leesburg, Frederick, Germantown, Gaithersburg,” Brown told WTOP. “When the ferry’s not operating, essentially, we’re just cut off from a third of our commerce, our commuters are cut off by a third [and] our tourism is cut off by a third.”

Brown said the problem has been twofold: Poolesville has lost existing businesses along its main street, and it’s had trouble attracting new businesses. And no — people aren’t interested in taking “the long way around” of driving across U.S. 15 to visit Poolesville, according to Brown.

Attempts to restart the ferry have been up a creek without a paddle.

A court decision in late 2020 found that White’s Ferry had been trespassing on the ferry’s Virginia landing spot, Rockland Farm. The two parties were said to be in negotiations to keep the ferry open, but White’s Ferry shut down its operation before reaching an agreement.

The ferry was sold to new owners in early 2021 with the hope that the ferry could be revived soon. But negotiations again stalled when interests diverged — White’s Ferry wanted an easement or land sale to operate the ferry, while Rockland Farm wanted to keep its land and charge a 50 cent-per-vehicle fee.

Chuck Kuhns, the new owner of White’s Ferry, accused Rockland Farm of insulting him during negotiations this past November. The sour relationship has all but ended any hope of bringing back the ferry.

This isn’t good news for Poolesville’s business community, which has taken the same beating from the COVID-19 pandemic all businesses have.

“We’ve got companies and people that are making major decisions based on the fact that the ferry won’t reopen. So we’ve got to have it reopened,” Brown said.

White’s Ferry, which dates back to 1786, was carrying roughly 800 vehicles a day before the pandemic.

WTOP’s Acacia James contributed to this report.

Matthew Delaney

Matt Delaney is a digital web writer/editor who joined WTOP in 2020.

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